The celebrity interview

Jun. 05, 2013 @ 04:40 PM

When I interviewed Clay Aiken this past week, I asked if he was ever surprised at meeting other famous people in person. He doesn’t get starstruck, he said, but added that he had been excited to meet Diane Sawyer, Sen. Tom Harkin and Tom Brokaw.

Aiken said he shared an elevator with Brokaw. I too, would have been thrilled. I have Brokaw’s autograph, courtesy of my mother, because that’s a mom thing to do. She sent Brokaw a column I wrote 12 years ago about the “Greatest Generation,” a phrase he coined, and asked him to sign an NBC Nightly News ad for me. He did, and sent a nice, short letter, too. It’s something I never would have asked for, but that’s what moms are for.

I framed it, of course. I have Brokaw’s books. His voice, like Jimmy Stewart’s, is one of comfort. The sound of it on the television signaled dinner time throughout my childhood. If I ever interviewed him, I would probably be awkward at first until journo-Dawn took over and it became like any other interview.  

On Friday, I interviewed Carol Burnett on the phone for a story you’ll read in the coming days. She’s a big deal, you know. I admit, I was excited.

As jaded ink-stained wretches, journalists generally aren’t impressed by anyone. We’re not supposed to be fans. And you probably wouldn’t want to read an interview conducted by a fan, anyway. Too fawning. Too glossy. I play it straight, regardless of what I think of their work. When you have interviewed several famous people, you begin to realize they have the same personality variances of anyone else you interview. Oftentimes, the only difference is how much money they have in the bank. Some are nicer than others. Some enjoy their work, others enjoy complaining about it.

Most of my interviews with entertainers coming to the area are on the phone. Occasionally it’s in person, like when Will Ferrell came to UNC to promote a basketball comedy. He’s nice, for the record. He has manners, something that’s important in the South or anywhere else in the country or world. Of my phone interviews, Al Franken, when he was the comedian not the senator, has good manners. So does Paula Deen. And Trisha Yearwood. Rue McClanahan was super cool.

When I interviewed Aiken, there was that initial surreal moment of talking to someone in person who has been on television so many times. But after a second that dissipates. When we talked about meeting famous people you like, Aiken offered that adage about it being better not to meet your heroes, because they could end up being mean or boring. In other words, your expectations will exceed reality. Best to be pleasantly surprised.

By the way, I had hoped Carol Burnett would be as friendly as she seems, and she is. I liked her work before, and I like her personally now. She’ll be at DPAC on May 12, and take questions from the audience, so you can see for yourself.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.